Low carbon heating options for rural homes

The UK government’s current proposal for off-grid heating is focused on an electrification first approach. This means many rural homeowners who currently rely on traditional fuels for heating, may need to consider replacing their current system with a low carbon option, if it breaks down from 2026.

There are a wide range of low carbon heating solutions available for rural, off-grid homes, so it can be daunting to know where to start or which solution is most appropriate. To help, we’ve put together a handy guide to low carbon rural heating options, with pros and cons for each, that should help rural homeowners navigate the options available to them.

Renewable ready boilers

For rural homes with LPG gas boilers installed, renewable liquid gases are a 100% green alternative to LPG and produce significantly less carbon than traditional fuels.

BioLPG is one such fuel. It can be dropped into existing LPG systems, meaning no need for an extensive change to the heating system.

Another renewable liquid gas which is currently being commercialised in the UK is rDME, which is produced from renewable and waste feedstocks. It also produces significantly less carbon than traditional fuels (up to 85%) and will provide homeowners with another green gas option if they are off the mains gas grid.

Benefits of bioLPG

A gas boiler will heat a home quickly and bioLPG can be used as a drop-in alternative in a traditional LPG gas heating system, with some slight adaptations to heating systems required. This is important for gas installers as it means no retraining is needed. Gas boilers are generally more suited to older, less energy efficient properties, and in future, renewable liquid gases will be able to fill the gap of traditional LPG.

Drawbacks of bioLPG

Gas boilers can take up space and need regular maintenance. They can also lose heat quickly if they’re not insulated correctly.

Air source heat pumps

An air source heat pump takes heat from the air and absorbs it at a low temperature into a fluid in the unit. This fluid passes through a compressor where its temperature is increased and its then circulated to the heating and hot water circuits in the house.

 Benefits of air source heat pumps

They require virtually no maintenance if installed appropriately and are relatively easy to install. They’re fully automated, and there is no need to order fuel for them. Air source heat pumps are very efficient in well insulated homes and can save carbon emissions.

Drawbacks of air source heat pumps

Air source heat pumps are expensive to install and are costly to run in poorly insulated homes. In energy inefficient homes such as older rural properties, the cost of retrofit can be significant, up to £32,000.

Air source heat pumps also provide a lower heat supply than boilers and can be noisy. As this technology is newer, there are fewer heating installers trained to install this type of system so it may be more difficult to access a suitable installer.

Ground source heat pumps

A ground source heat pump works in a similar way to an air source heat pump, except that heat from the ground is absorbed into the fluid, which passes through a heat exchanger into the heat pump. This raises the temperature of the fluid and then transfers the heat to hot water circuits in the home.

Benefits of ground source heat pumps

They are fully automated, very energy efficient and save space. They’re also low maintenance and save carbon emissions.

 Drawbacks of ground source heat pumps

Similar to air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps are expensive to install, with a large upfront payment, and can require a significant retrofit in poorly insulated homes. Installation can be disruptive, as it means digging your garden up, and you may need to have underfloor heating and new radiators installed.

This technology is also much newer, so not all heating installers will be fully trained on how to install this type of system.

Water source heat pumps

Water source heat pumps extract heat energy from a water source such as a lake, river or the sea and use it to provide hot water and heating to a property. There are two types of water source heat pump systems: open loop and closed loop.

Open loop systems

An open loop system will extract and filter the water, circulate it through the system and release it back into the water source, or another alternative such as a water well or borehole. The systems don’t use a heat transfer fluid – the water itself is the fluid that is circulated through the heating system.

 Closed loop systems

A closed loop system continually circulates a mixture of water and refrigerant (also known as a ‘brine’) through submerged or buried pipes. The water from the source doesn’t get into the pipes, and as the fluid flows through the pipes it is heated by the water body and returns to the heat pump.

Benefits of water source heat pumps

Water source heat pumps are generally more efficient than ground and air source systems because heat transfers better in water.

 Drawbacks of water source heat pumps

They have a have high upfront cost with an average payback period of five years. The installation of the heat pump can also be quite difficult as they need to be close to a water source.

 Solar thermal heating

Solar thermal panels can be fitted to your roof and contain tubes of fluid that absorb heat from the sun. This hot fluid is then transferred to your hot water storage tank via a heat exchanger.

Benefits of solar thermal heating

Solar thermal heating uses a readily available and free source of energy from the sun and can be integrated into an existing system. They have no CO2 emissions during operation and can provide cost savings.

Drawbacks of solar thermal heating

They are intermittent and have a low energy density. Installation costs can be high, and the panels require a large amount of roof space.

Biomass boilers

Biomass heating systems burn wood chip, wood pellets, or logs to provide heat in a single room or to power central heating and hot water boilers.

 Benefits of biomass boilers

Biomass boilers are a renewable and often low carbon fuel type, which means homeowners can run a heating system with reduction in carbon emissions. These systems are also very efficient and can be cost-effective to run.

Drawbacks of biomass boilers

They need a lot of space because the systems are generally large, and they have a high upfront cost. There can be some costs associated with maintenance and the cost of biomass pellets can vary.

Compared to other low carbon heating options, biomass boilers have worse air quality emissions and there is an increased risk of pollution.

To find out more about the different heating solutions available for rural homes, speak to your local heating engineer.